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HSE Releases Updated Guidance for Working with Asbestos

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Even though the use of asbestos has been completely banned in the UK since 1999, around 5,000 people die every year due to past exposure.

The Health and Safety Executive have released a new edition of the HSG248 – Asbestos: The Analyst’s Guide, offering information for safety professionals involved in asbestos work and is the authoritative source of asbestos analytical procedures within Great Britain.

This comprehensive guide has been updated due to the legal changes, findings from HSE’s Analyst Inspection Programme and continued developments in procedures and methodology – providing clarification on technical and personal safety  issues.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre that was widely used within the construction industry due to the fact it’s a strong and cheap material with good fire, chemical and water-resistant properties.

This material was massively popular during the mid-century before the dangers of asbestos were realised, and subsequently, many buildings still contain asbestos today.

Why is it dangerous?

If undisturbed, asbestos poses very little risk to health.

Once materials containing asbestos are disturbed or damaged however, fibres are released into the air and if inhaled, can cause life-threatening respiratory issues such as mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis.

These respiratory issues can take several years – or even decades – to present themselves, meaning you may not even realise you’ve been exposed until many years later.

What are the symptoms?

Most asbestos-related illnesses have similar symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and persistent coughing.

Without treatment, they are likely to continue and get worse over time.

Who is most at risk?

The people most at risk are those who worked within the construction industry, particularly from the 1970s – 1990s as it’s likely they would have worked with asbestos.

Whilst less likely, family members of those who worked with asbestos can also develop associated respiratory conditions due to being exposed to harmful fibres that may have been brought home on clothing.

Today, tradesmen, property developers and DIYers continue to be at risk, if asbestos infected substances aren’t handled properly and adequate/suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) isn’t worn.

People who have been exposed to asbestos and smoke are at a significantly high risk of later developing respiratory illnesses.

How do I make sure I am protected from asbestos?

If you are carrying out any work that potentially could be disturbing asbestos make sure that you:

  • Stop work and speak to your employer to discuss whether the work needs to be carried out by a licensed contractor.
  • Use your personal protective equipment including a fit tested P3 respirator to prevent inhaling any harmful fibres.
  • Use a Type H vacuum cleaner or wet rags to clear up any mess.
  • Wash before breaks and before going home and change clothes before leaving.
  • Make sure that you have had adequate training.

For more information on working safely with asbestos, please visit the HES’s website: www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/protect.htm

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